Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Holiday Sides Start with Healthy Foods

I love Thanksgiving! Every year the family congregates at my house and celebrates being together for another year of feasting. There can’t be a more exalted occasion for a foodie. Some of our dishes could be in the archeological archives, they have been in the family so long. And with each addition to the family, must-have recipes are included, resulting in a groaning board of colors, aromas and gustatory excellence. I’m starting to salivate already!

Are the recipes “healthy”? This is where the angel and devil on the shoulders appear. My devil attitude towards Thanksgiving is that it should be enjoyed, in all of its excellence. My dietitian background however, reminds me that the two pounds of butter that was used in the mashed potatoes will clog the arteries of even the marathon runners at the table.

Lots of Vitamin A! Let’s look at some of our traditional Thanksgiving sides. The base ingredients of most of these dishes abound with healthy nutrients that are touted daily in the media for reducing the incidence of chronic diseases. Pumpkin and sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A (beta-carotene), a powerful antioxidant, linked to blocking carcinogens causing cancer of the gastric, breast, lung and colorectal systems. Vitamin A also boosts healthy eyesight and some claim, limits age related wrinkles. If you mix your sweet potatoes and pumpkin into a pie, you’ll add calcium rich milk and cinnamon, recently linked to assisting diabetics regulate blood sugar. These foods are starting to sound as healthy as low-fat granola!

Whole Grain? How about stuffing? The basic stuffing recipe with white bread cubes, lots of butter and seasoning is hard to defend as healthy, especially covered with turkey gravy. However, including whole grain bread cubes (cornbread counts), substituting low fat chicken broth for some of the butter and adding vegetables or nuts will lower the fat content. Diabetics need to decide which carbohydrate-rich sides they have to have. Thanksgiving sides like potatoes, rolls, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, root vegetables, cranberry sauce and pies will have your blood sugar scaling the Eiffel Tower in short time. Either choose small portions or pick your favorites and leave others to taste as leftovers in another meal.

Don't forget the cranberries. Inflammation is a hot topic in preventative care and berries are one of the components of the anti-inflammation diet, linked to improving cardiovascular risk, some cancers and Alzheimer’s disease. Cranberries have long been associated with decreased urinary infections because of their proanthocyanidins, a phytochemical that can prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract wall. The whole berry version also contains fiber. Our family enjoys cranberry chutney which includes apples, raisins, nuts and orange juice – all healthy additions.

Even Brussel Sprouts!? Another traditional side that has healthy base foods are Brussels sprouts, a member of the cruciferous family, linked to decreased cancers and greens, high in beta carotene. Season these with oils, rather than animal fats like butter, cheese and bacon. Many families have traditional vegetable dishes that are only eaten at holidays. Exposure to these foods may encourage children to expand their variety of vegetable likes and dislikes. Even less popular vegetables, like parsnips might be a traditional side that children learn to eat.

Bon Aperitif! The devil on my shoulder is telling me that one meal isn’t worth worrying about a healthy makeover, but the angel says that even Thanksgiving foods can be updated to include ingredients that contain less fat, sodium and sugar. Enjoy your holiday – and enjoy the feast. Give thanks that you have another year with family and friends and hopefully, your good health due to healthy eating the rest of the year. Bon aperitif!

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